Teach Like a Pirate – review

Teach Like a Pirate: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an EducatorTeach Like a Pirate: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator by Dave Burgess

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So much hype surrounds this book, and its been rated highly by many educators whom I respect, so I thought it would be worth a look.

Author Dave Burgess shares a great deal about his teaching practice, and to that end, its a great read. I always love hearing about how other teachers go about their work. He has a great emphasis on creativity and engagement, and provides many great tips that I’m sure many teachers will find useful.

He repeatedly reminds his readers that education needs to be more than about what is on the test, and one of the points of difference between his class and many other classes, is that he provides far better reasons for his students to engage in learning than telling them they need it for the test. Perhaps this is one of the reasons, the book didn’t really resonate with me. Burgess works in the US school system, which is increasingly dominated by high stakes standardised testing. In my system, that’s not the case. We aren’t test driven, and I know of no teachers who use the ‘test’ as a justification for any of the learning their students do.

As an Australian primary school teacher, I found nothing new. We already take a creative, cross curricular approach to our work. Dress up days, theme days, magic, cooking, outdoor lessons, simulation games, role play, are all common and familiar.

I found it troubling that Burgess frequently wrote as if he was the only teacher using these practices, and his aim was to make his class stand out from all the others that students in his school attend. He went so far as to suggest that the rest of the school experience for his students was dry and boring. He wanted his students to know that as soon as they entered his room they would have a different and superior experience to what they would experience in any other classroom. As a school leader I found this problematic. I’d like to see teachers working less in isolation and more in collaboration. We all improve as we draw upon each others strengths and expertise. Setting out to convince our students that our class is a special experience is fine, but setting out to convince our students that our class is a superior experience to the classes of our colleagues is toxic and undermining.

Teach Like a Pirate includes some great tips for people who are having trouble being passionate about their subjects or engaging their students. However, I don’t believe it deserves the bandwagon hype that it has received. This is not a book that every teacher should read, or that will transform their work. It’s a book about one teachers practice with a few good tips, particularly for inexperienced teachers or perhaps those who are feeling jaded and need some inspiration.

Update: After posting this review I had a number of discussions on Twitter that led me to feel the need to expand on this a little more. There is plenty that is good in Teach Like a Pirate, as well as areas that I find problematic. Read more in my next post: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

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6 thoughts on “Teach Like a Pirate – review

  1. Cameron says:

    Hi Corinne, I absolutely agree with your assessment. I read this last year and was underwhelmed. I also found the emphasis on teacher as performer problematic. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • Yes, I agree re the teacher as performer. There was a lot in the book about what Dave would do, but very little about what the students do. Are they actively involved in learning, or being an audience? He only shared occasional glimpses of their part in the learning process.

  2. Vanessa says:

    I see where you’re coming from, and it’s a justifiable assessment, however, I think some of the ideas are inspirational, or at the least, validating. It’s great to know that when I do unusual stuff with my class that it’s OK, and valuable. I agree that a lot of what he says isn’t new, but I’ve rarely found anything that hadn’t been done before.

    Whilst he can come across as a little cocky, (hope that translates from English!), I didn’t feel that there was an emphasis on being superior.He is sharing his techniques, so not working in a privatised manner, and also visits many schools to spread the word and give people confidence to enjoy being a little crazy with their kids, if that’s what they want to do.

    A lot of this kind of practice comes from the idea that if it’s not fully interactive and novel, students won’t interact, remember or care about the learning. Many teachers are concerned about this aspect of modern childhood, so a book like this is a great resource. Most importantly though, you’ve got to go with what works for you, and your students because they’ll spot a fake a mile away!

    Thanks for your review, Corinne, good to read a different viewpoint, gets you thinking!

    • Hi Vanessa,
      Thanks for sharing your perspective. I really appreciate hearing how you look at his book somewhat differently and I know many teachers have found great value in the book, and I can see how his ideas could be inspiring for some.

  3. I agree, I found it a very teacher centred approach in that it is a teacher seeking attention rather than allowing students to shine. Narcism is probably too strong a word but definitely attention seeking behaviour. I blogged about it when I read it. I had a very visceral cringe response to the book. I’d rather teacher like a teacher.

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